What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Debunking Myths About Epidurals for Childbirth

February 17, 2011, 7:30 PM

From a good post by Dr. Harriet Hall debunking various myths about epidural analgesia for childbirth:

In my opinion, it is unconscionable to let patients suffering from severe pain go untreated unless there is compelling evidence that not treating pain results in improved health outcomes. It is even more unconscionable for ideologically motivated people to influence a patient to feel guilty about accepting pain relief. A typical natural childbirth website tells women that if they try but can’t stand the pain, they shouldn’t feel bad about asking for medication. The very fact that they felt compelled to say that is an admission that some women do feel bad. Alarmist midwifery websites ask “Why are so many women taking dangerous drugs during labor?” They  exaggerate the dangers of epidurals, referring to doctors as “drug pushers.” They tell women they should “embrace the full pain of childbirth.

Hall also stresses earlier in the piece that, as autonomous individuals, women have the right to choose unmedicated birth. She just questions why some birth activists are so dogmatic about the purported superiority of unmedicated birth.

Many of the familiar objections to epidurals are based on outdated versions of the procedure. For example, these days, an epidural doesn't necessarily confine the woman to bed. Contrary to popular belief, modern epidurals do not prolong labor, and may even facilitate the process.

The argument is that epidurals have side effects, so it's automatically better to avoid them. That reasoning if faulty. The real question, as in all cost-benefit analysis, is whether the side effects of an epidural are better or worse than the side effects of unmedicated childbirth. Epidurals cause headaches less than 1% of the time.

Whereas, unmedicated birth has a very, very common side effect: Agonizing pain.

Natural childbirth advocates can be very cagey about how much childbirth typically hurts. Some authors even suggest that childbirth is inherently painless, and that every woman would have pain-free delivery, but for modern cultural hangups. 

Dr. Amy Tuteur (aka "the Skeptical OB") had an excellent post a few weeks ago about why childbirth hurts. Women's experiences vary widely. Some report that the pain of childbirth is manageable, others find it excruciating.

As Dr. Amy explains, there are good physiological reasons to expect that, on average, childbirth will hurt like hell. The body is being pushed and pulled in ways that we would expect to hurt, if these stresses were caused by anything else. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that most women report that the process is very painful.

The myth of inherently painless childbirth is often used to guilt-trip women who want pain relief. According to the myth, the pain either isn't real, or could have been avoided if the woman had attained a suitably crunchy mindset.

Not everyone needs heavy duty pain relief in labor, but a significant percentage of women do. Let's not make their needs invisible.

[Image credit: Pierre Marcel, Creative Commons.]


Debunking Myths About Epidu...

Newsletter: Share: